Watch it, you buffoons!
Okay, I shouldn’t swear. They’re kids, after all. Irritable, utterly annoying kids as they may be. But you can’t say you’ve never, as a 55-year-old, felt resentment towards the younger generation; with their overflowing energies and that sickening vivaciousness. Just look at them. Laughing away to glory, brimming with… life.
Ugh. Maketh me weep.
Wait till you guys grow up, a part of me wants to say.
All right, I’ll confess. I’m in a foul mood because today couldn’t have started on a worse note. I spilled orange juice over my white shirt. And here’s the kicker: of course it’s my fault. How could it not be when the woman I’ve been married to for almost three decades knocks the glass out of my hand, and relishes watching it swing in the air and land on my shirt? How could it not be when, getting up from my seat, I slip on the small puddle and fall, face down, on it?
You would obviously say I must be partly, if not entirely, responsible. Okay, I may have forgotten our anniversary. And I may have told her I won’t be home until 11 because I have a business dinner.
Oh, go away.
Anyway, back to the point. A group of kids, with their unkempt dressing to their whatchamacallit hairdos (“straight-out-of-bed,” which apparently is setting trends now), that have my attention – and resentment – got on the train two stations ago. I was standing right next to the door, because I don’t want to wrestle the crowd when my station, three stops away, arrives. The kids, unable to penetrate the crowd, stand next to me.
Great. Just what I needed. Someone pressing up the side of me on a train that smells like bad body odour, stale vegetables, and… farts. Someone’s let it rip. And the perpetrator did not hold back.
One of the kids, a tall, lanky, curly haired boy, says something and the girl next to him slaps him good-naturedly on the back. She seems like his girlfriend; you can tell by the way she lets her hand slide from his back to the nook of his arm, where it stays. The entire group chortle at what the boyfriend, who is clearly the pack’s leader – the one who’s got the best jokes, the one who decides where to go eat, the one whose absence would disintegrate the group entirely – said.
The train’s driver punches on the brakes, which sends the girlfriend’s elbow ramming into my side. I must have uttered a loud enough cry, or perhaps even swore. Because the expression on the girlfriend’s face was not of contrition, but of fear. Like she’s run over a little puppy because of her careless driving.
And the boyfriend? Well, he seemed angry; which was fair. No one would be pleased with an old man swearing at his woman.
But I don’t care. Kids may think the world of themselves, with their misplaced ambitions, their careless albeit zealous demeanour, but there’s something called being a grown-up, which they’re going to learn today. No matter if I have to…
Get real, the practical side of me said. You can’t fight him. And it’s right. Lanky as the boyfriend may be, I do feel… threatened? Intimidated? By him? He is looking at me. Looking into me. Into my bare soul; if, that is, after today’s morning, I have any left. Pretty sure my wife has pulled it out of me to have as her toy.
Old man, I can hear his eyes say. Back off, all right? You wouldn’t want trouble.
No, I don’t. Maybe, in my state of fear, I said it aloud. Because the girlfriend, red in her face even though her boyfriend’s reassuring hand is on her shoulder, asks, “What?”
I suppose my stare at the girlfriend lingered for a moment too long. As the train arrived at the next stop I thought of disembarking even though I would need to take the next train. I glanced at the boyfriend. His resentment had crossed into rage. I think he took a step towards me, or maybe it was the train lurching to a stop which caused his movement, but I spun and, as the doors opened, dashed out.
Once outside, I turned. He was waving something that glinted under the train’s lights, and I could only grasp a snatch of what he was saying.
Glad to be finally off the train, I fished my hand in my coat pocket. I had meant to wear the watch, but somehow forgot because of the morning I had, and just put in my pocket. The missus had presented it to me the day before. Quite possibly an anniversary present. And I – the real buffoon – didn’t ask her what it was for. Yes, with the juice accident this morning, you could say I got off easy.
But… wait. The watch wasn’t there. I searched for it; in my other coat pockets, the trouser pockets, even the bag.
Nowhere. In a hurry to get out, did I…?
Oh, dear God.
Just as the doors started closing, I saw the boyfriend hurling it out of the train. Quick thinking on his part. Maybe I shouldn’t have been quick to…
But the watch, in its trajectory, hit someone’s raised hand along its way, and (as if my day couldn’t get any worse), falls in the gap between the train and the edge of the platform. I won’t lie to you, amid the relentless bustling of the crowd – the bustling I’ve grown up with, the bustling which, as a city boy, I’ve found more reassuring than the quietness of the hills – I hear a small crack. You don’t need a sound engineer to tell you what the sound is.
It’s the sound of the watch – and my marital bliss – shattering.
Shaurya Arya-Kanojia authored his debut novella, End of the Rope ( amzn.in/eZ0EUss ), in 2019. He likes sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, and watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond. His social media handles include @shauryaticks (Twitter) and @main.hoon.ek.sharara (Instagram).